Finding the right browser for the right job

Four years ago one of my most frequently used OS/2 applications was a communications program called TE/2. I had generated a list of more than 65 electronic bulletin boards that I contacted regularly for technical support. I had a separate telephone line installed for my modem and always was looking to buy the next fastest modem that came on the market.

Today the explosive growth of the Internet has resulted in a dramatic decrease in the number of times I've had to use a bulletin board system to get support. In 1992 the objective was to have good communications software and the fastest modem money could buy. Today the expanding presence of the World Wide Web demands that you use the best browser for the job.

OS/2 users have the distinct advantage of being some of the first people to use the Web actively. In 1994 IBM Corp. became the first company to ship an operating system with a complete set of Internet access software that included IBM's own WebExplorer for OS/2. Since then IBM has watched while WebExplorer has been eclipsed - both in function and in form - by Netscape Communications Corp's Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer.

Federal agencies running Microsoft Windows have a variety of Web browsers from which to choose. However the vast majority of users prefer Netscape Navigator with Microsoft's Internet Explorer running a close second (and closing fast). I've run the top two browsers under each of the leading operating systems they support (Windows for Workgroups Windows NT and Windows95) and have compared them closely to OS/2's native WebExplorer.

After spending four months with each browser I've come to the conclusion that there are only two browsers to consider.

First before logging onto the Internet you must ask yourself how you intend to use the browser. If your primary goal is to download batches of files or perform lengthy searches of technical support databases then OS/2's WebExplorer remains the browser of choice. Although WebExplorer looks antiquated when compared with the competition it still provides the most flexibility when downloading multiple files or conducting time-consuming database queries since it works extremely well as a background application.

Other browsers slow dramatically or sometimes just quit working when placed in the background. Sure there are tweaks you can make to enhance performance in the other products but I find that OS/2's greatest strength - its efficient fluid multitasking - sets it apart from the competition.

WebExplorer takes full advantage of OS/2 and allows me to complete other tasks easily in the foreground as WebExplorer goes about its job of uploading downloading or searching for files.

But for Web surfing which usually involves stopping at the best multimedia-enabled Web sites I prefer Microsoft's Internet Explorer 3.0 under Windows 95. Internet Explorer has the most modern-looking interface and comes enabled for most types of multimedia. Updating Internet Explorer is simply a matter of contacting Microsoft's Web site and clicking on a list of featured updates that install themselves without any user intervention.

Windows 95's ability to multitask can't compare with the efficiency of OS/2's multitasking model. But if the browser is the only application you're going to run and "surfing" is your game then Internet Explorer 3.0 is hard to beat.

Unlike the majority I've never cared for Netscape Navigator. It has a square industrial-looking interface and requires you to download a host of third-party applications to equip it for multimedia.

Updating Navigator involves the cumbersome task of contacting another Web site reading through licensing and installation instructions downloading binary archives extracting files running setup programs and then deleting the original archives. It is a clumsy process at best and leaves your hard drive littered with the remains of a variety of third-party applications.

Although Netscape enjoys the greatest market share its design shows a lack of innovation and keeping it current is a process that may prove to be too much for some users.

A Web browser is a tool and like any other tool it is up to you to pick the best suited for the job. My experience has shown that no single browser is the best all-purpose tool for accessing the Web. If you never venture to try another browser you'll never know what a difference there really is.Rodgers is a computer specialist with the Army at Aberdeen Proving Ground Md. Reach him at os2guru@erols.com and read this column on Gateway at www.fcw.com.

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